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Port Jefferson Mayor Lauren Sheprow

Marie Parziale. Photo courtesy of Parziale

By Aidan Johnson

Port Jefferson resident Marie Parziale is running for the village board of trustees. Also known as Marie Johs — though her name will appear as “Marie Parziale” on the ballot — she announced her bid on May 29. She has been a resident of Port Jefferson since 1995 and works as the senior alumni career coach at Stony Brook University, along with being an elder and deacon at the First Presbyterian Church of Port Jefferson.

In an interview, she recounted how she got involved with the village early into her residency.

“I was lucky enough to have [former mayor] Jeanne Garant living a few doors down [from me], and we had a neighborhood community association. Of course, Jeanne was involved, and I jumped right in,” Parziale said, also describing how she helped on Garant’s mayoral campaign.

Parziale also took pride in discussing how she was part of the committee that worked with the architect that designed the inside of the Village Center, along with being on the parking committee and Vision 2010, a committee created to envision and discuss the goals and future of Port Jefferson by the year 2030.

“When I look back at the happiest times in my life I’m giving,” she said. “I really wanted to jump right back and do community work.”

One of her biggest issues is the revitalization of the downtown and uptown areas of Port Jefferson.

“I work at Stony Brook, and the person who hired me is the vice president of student affairs now, so he oversees residential life, and we have an issue there that there’s not enough housing for students. Upper Port is one stop away [on the Port Jefferson Branch of the Long Island Rail Road],” Parziale said.

She explained her vision of providing a place for graduate students in the uptown area, which would allow more room on the Stony Brook University campus for first- and second-year students.

“What’s missing in this village up there is … a good, vibrant energy, a young energy,” Parziale said, describing an area that would include coffee shops and bookstores.

Parziale also said that a stronger village police presence was needed in the Upper Port area.

“If code had a presence up there, there would be a level of safety, and then people will be willing to come in and invest. I know the developers are building, but we don’t want empty shops like we have down here,” she said.

Parziale praised Mayor Lauren Sheprow for “keeping us up to date on her promises,” though the candidate expressed a need to better amplify this to the community.

“I think what maybe could be better is that she’s got some wonderful things on the website that’s explaining it, but it sounds like people aren’t going there, so maybe a little bit better PR [to be able to] better amplify all that’s being done.”

Parziale is joined by two other candidates for village trustee, Xena Ugrinsky and Kyle Hill, for the two open seats. A meet the candidates night for the three candidates will take place on June 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Port Jefferson Village Center.

The election is on Tuesday, June 18, at the Village Center from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Port Jefferson’s East Beach on Jan. 25. Photo courtesy Myrna Gordon

By Sabrina Artusa

With further recession of the East Beach bluff threatening the safety and structural integrity of the Port Jefferson Country Club, tennis and pickleball courts and golf course, the Village of Port Jefferson held a town hall meeting May 28 at the Waterview catering hall to discuss how to proceed with the bluff revitalization plan initiated in 2021. This plan was interrupted by fierce storms that damaged the barrier wall the village spent two years and approximately $6 million building.

While portions of the wall held strong against runoff and winds, the damage has made some residents unsure if continuing with Phase II is the most effective solution. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is funding 75% of Phase II, but the specifics of the grant agreement have not been finalized.

Country club

Some residents question why money should be spent protecting a commercial business and argue for the demolition of the village-owned country club and rebuilding further from the cliff.

“There are a lot of people in this town who are hurting. Inflation is hurting middle American families … we talk about putting millions of tax dollars into this beautiful club, but for what?” one resident asked. 

“It’s not just an engineering issue. It’s a cost-benefit analysis for the entire community, and a referendum requires that we be included,” another person said.

The club, however, reportedly brings in over $300,000 of revenue to the village annually. Additionally, one does not have to be a member of the country club to visit.

“When you are repairing the bluff, what is it actually going to protect? It is going to protect a building that is revenue neutral at its worst and it sounds like it is a revenue positive facility,” another resident said.

Other options

Mayor Lauren Sheprow said that the wall held strong for the most part and that engineers and environmental scientists are being consulted on the most responsible course of action going forward.

Nick Thatos, co-founder of the Long Island-based Coastal Technologies, said that planting native species is key to preventing further erosion. He noted that North Shore native plants evolved “to stabilize” and “colonize this niche environment,” citing the complex root systems and cement-like excretions that can keep sand in place.

“Nature is incredible. We cannot engineer anything near what nature can accomplish,” he said.

Some said that the angle of the bluff needs to be corrected to prevent recession, while others said that retreating is the most dependable option.

“The only way to fortify the top is to retreat,” said a woman who has lived in Port Jefferson for over 30 years. “The golf and tennis are separate. Another building can be built.”

Sheprow is asking for volunteers for the village’s Citizens Commission on Erosion. “We want input, we don’t want to do it in a vacuum,” she said.

Port Jefferson Village Center. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Samantha Rutt

On the evening of May 29, a crime occurred near the village center, shedding light on gaps in the village hall’s communication protocols. The incident has raised questions and concerns among residents and officials about the effectiveness of current systems for public safety notifications.

Incident details

Between 6 and 6:30 p.m., a man who had been stabbed or slashed sought help at the Village Center near Harborfront Park. Covered in blood, the victim’s appearance alarmed bystanders. The assailants were reportedly still at large, fleeing in a white SUV. Suffolk County Police responded with several police cars and retrieved camera footage from the area to aid their investigation.

Compounding the situation, a senior awards ceremony and several sporting events were taking place at the nearby school. Despite the proximity of these events to the crime scene, school leadership was not informed about the incident, raising concerns about the safety and well-being of students and attendees.

Response timeline

Seeking clarity and answers, an email was sent to village officials on May 31. The email was addressed to Mayor Sheprow and trustees Loucks, Juliano, Kassay, and Biondo. All below events are reported from Traci Donnelly’s Facebook page.

May 31, 6:25 p.m.: Initial inquiry sent to village officials.

May 31, 8:26 p.m.: Trustee Loucks responded, indicating he was unaware of any official communication from the village. He learned about the incident from the manager of the village center and noted that more than 50 hours after the incident, trustees had still not been provided with any updates or information.

May 31, 9:11 p.m.: A follow-up email was sent, questioning the lack of community notification.

May 31, 9:32 p.m.: Trustee Biondo responded, suggesting that if the incident were serious enough, the Suffolk County Police Department would have notified the community.

June 1, 7:02 a.m.: A request was made for clear communication protocols and criteria for alert systems.

June 1, 1:51 p.m.: Trustee Biondo advised attending the next public meeting for discussions and deliberation with the trustees. It was reiterated that, according to the village attorney and mayor, public comments are not meant for deliberations.

Several concerns have emerged in the wake of this incident. No public alert was issued, despite the severity of the incident and its proximity to community events, no alert was sent to residents. A lack of real-time information as schools and trustees were not informed in real time. Trustee Loucks learned about the incident from the village center manager and other trustees were also uninformed prior to the email. Additionally, it was made evident there are communication gaps as the current strategy for notifying residents about serious incidents is unclear.

The incident has prompted several questions from concerned residents, in Donnelly’s post she asks “Why wasn’t the incident on May 29 considered a public safety issue warranting a Code Red alert? Who decides when these alerts are issued and who is on the village’s emergency response team? Were all trustees informed of the incident in real time?”

The community is calling for increased transparency and the development of a comprehensive communication plan with public input. Residents are encouraged to email trustees directly for accurate information and to avoid relying on social media for critical updates.

“It is important to have communication between village officials and residents. We are looking to wirk alongside residents to have an effective emergency response system in place,” village trustee Rebecca Kassay said.

The email exchange regarding this incident is available upon request for anyone interested in complete transparency.

Photo by Lynn Hallarman

By Lynn Hallarman

During the April 24 Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees meeting, discussions surrounding the Port Jefferson school district budget for the year 2024-25 and the new village parking initiative took center stage. 

School budget 

Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister provided a detailed overview of the school district’s financial landscape, emphasizing ongoing challenges. These challenges include an uncertain timeline for resolving the Child Victims Act litigation and decreases in revenue due to the LIPA glide path agreement. 

Leister reported that the Board of Education deliberated extensively on budget allocations for the upcoming year, focusing on necessary construction projects. Due to budget constraints, the school board approved four projects totaling $1 million. These projects relate to demolishing a no-longer-habitable high school portable classroom, renovating the high school orchestra room, renovating the elementary school pool and continuing a roofing project. 

Reduced enrollment prompted reductions in staff positions, amounting to 3.6 full-time equivalent positions. 

“I don’t say this lightheartedly for any reduction for a staff member is tough, but someone may be reduced from 100% to 80% meaning going from five classes to four,” Leister said. 

The budget breakdown highlighted that 77% of the district’s funding goes to salaries and benefits. 

“Once you take into account collective bargaining agreements, state regulations and state mandates, of this whole budget probably only about 4% is controllable,” he said. 

Leister noted increases for the coming year in medical insurance (10%), liability insurance (4%), teacher retirement insurance (9.76%-10.25%) and utilities (4%). 

Mayor Lauren Sheprow sought clarity on the reserve funds in the budget presentation. Leister indicated that the presentation did not explicitly state the details of the reserve funds. However, residents can find information about the funds on the district’s website. Leister summarized for the mayor a general breakdown of the reserve into six parts that comprise a fund for workers compensation, unemployment insurance, spikes in the retirement system, the teachers and civil service unions, and capital projects. 

“Right now, our capital reserve fund is $3.1 million. We use that to do different capital projects. The way we fund it is when we have a surplus at the end of a given year — the board will pass a motion to fund that reserve up to no more than $1.5 million each year,” Leister said.

Trustee Drew Biondo asked, “Is there any working group going on to bring the community in and talk about what we are doing as a district as our enrollment drops and how we maintain our services?” 

Sheprow responded, “In fact, the village created a school district interactive working group in response to taxpayer feedback about this issue. My perspective is that it is about building trust with community members to show that you are listening to them and being fiscally responsible.”

The 2024-25 second draft budget is projected at $48,018,335 ($47,066,099 in 2023-24), an increase of 2.02%.

The total amount of taxes levied by the school district for the 2024-25 academic year is estimated at $39.8 million ($39.3 million), a 1.24% increase. 

The vote for or against the 2024-25 budget will be held at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School cafeteria on Tuesday, May 21. 

Managed parking

Andrew Freleng, director of the Building & Planning Department, reported on the progress of the newly-implemented parking management system. His presentation reviewed the village’s recent effort to streamline its parking infrastructure and improve user experience. The new system departs from previous practices, informed by operational recommendations from the parking committee. 

The initiative kicked off with the removal of redundant signage and simplified messaging. The new system also retooled pay stations to emphasize functionality and user experience.

Freleng emphasized the use of empirical data to inform operational decision-making. The overall approach is to refine the parking management strategy over time in response to data-driven outcomes such as revenue generated and community feedback. 

Managed parking in the village began April 15. Homeowners must each renew their virtual permit to park for free in village lots every two years. Renters renew every year. 

By Heidi Sutton

The Village of Port Jefferson hosted its first annual Arbor Day Celebration on April 24. The event, organized by the newly formed Tree Committee members Anne Leahey and Avril Coakley, was attended by local officials and community members.

Port Jefferson Village Deputy Mayor and Commissioner of Environmental Sustainability Rebecca Kassay served as Master of Ceremony and introduced speakers Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine, New York State Assemblyman Ed Flood, Suffolk County Legislator Steve Englebright and Port Jefferson Village Mayor Lauren Sheprow. Former Mayor Sandra Swenk, Leahey and Port Jefferson Village Trustee Bob Juliano also spoke at the event.

Port Jefferson Village school District fifth grader Michael Viviano read a poem that he wrote for the occasion titled “The Tree Stands Tall” followed by the planting of two native trees — an American Hornbeam (Carbines Carolinians) and a Hackberry tree (Celtis Occidentalis) in the Maple Street parking lot.  All attendees were given a native tree or shrub sapling to plant in their own yards.

Reached after the event, Port Jefferson Deputy Mayor Kassay said, “As Port Jefferson Village’s first Commissioner of Environmental Sustainability, I’ve been honored to bring together and galvanize our community’s tree enthusiasts. Last year, I helped to form the Village’s first Tree Committee with a group of residents who shared the goal of making PJV a “Tree City, USA” under the Arbor Day Foundation canopy. We have successfully worked towards this goal, including creating a budget line for tree plantings, and an annual Arbor Day event. Their work to plant trees this year will serve their neighbors for decades to come. Many thanks to all who came out to celebrate the planting of two new trees in the Village, our young poet laureate of the event, and the distribution of native tree and shrub saplings.”

Sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation and the NYS Urban Forestry Council, Port Jefferson Village is now one step closer to achieving a Tree City USA designation.

PJV Arbor Day 2024 Flyer. Photo courtesy Rebecca Kassay

The Village of Port Jefferson’s Tree Committee – freshly sprouted in 2023 – invites one and all to the village’s first annual Arbor Day Celebration this coming Wednesday, April 24, from 5-6 p.m.

Held in the Maple Parking Lot, behind Old Fields and Billie’s restaurants, attendees will hear from Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine, Suffolk County Legislator Steve Englebright, Port Jefferson Village Mayor Lauren Sheprow and the Village’s Deputy Mayor and Commissioner of Environmental Sustainability, Rebecca Kassay. 

A local student from Port Jefferson will delight the crowd with a topical reading before the group ceremoniously plants two new native trees. Finally, all attendees will all be given a native tree or shrub sapling to plant in their own yards. 

By hosting this event, which is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, the village will be one step closer to their Tree City USA designation.

Further destruction of terracing and plantings on the East Beach bluff after recent rainstorms. Photo by Lynn Hallarman

Recent setbacks in East Beach bluff stabilization project have officials and residents on edge 

By Lynn Hallarman

East Beach is a village-owned strip of sandy shoreline situated between the northern front of the Long Island Sound and the base or toe of a steeply set bluff, roughly 100 feet high.

A jetty opens into Mount Sinai Harbor eastward of the bluff. To the west, the shore stretches past a series of private properties, then past the village of Belle Terre, and finally curves inward, reconfiguring as Port Jefferson Harbor. 

For decades, the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club, perched near the crest of the bluff, was invisible to beachgoers below, shielded by a thick tangle of greenery clinging to the bluff’s north front. 

But in recent years, a series of intense rainstorms, combined with sea rise and pressures from human-made alterations in the landscape above the bluff, have set in motion deforestation and scouring, denuding the bluff of vegetation and accelerating erosion in the direction of the country club’s foundation. The club has become precariously close to the bluff’s edge. Without a plan, there was no doubt it would slide down the bluff onto the shoreline below within a few years. 

To make matters worse, the bluff stabilization project, whose aim is to stabilize the position of the club, has been beset with complications in the wake of a series of recent storms unraveling costly work completed just last summer as part of Phase I of the project.

As communities across Long Island are confronting relentless coastal erosion, TBR News Media focuses on the obstacles facing the bluff stabilization project at East Beach, exploring the complexities, costs and alternative solutions to rescuing the country club.

The big picture

Bluffs change naturally over time, feeding sand to the beach and replenishing the shoreline. They respond to the force of winds, waves and tides, creating new states of equilibrium with the beach below and the landscapes above. The Long Island shoreline has been reshaping for thousands of years, sometimes imperceptibly and sometimes in dramatic fits of landslip that is, chunks of shoreline abruptly falling into the sea. 

East Beach and its bluff are inseparable from the adjacent coastline they move as the coastline moves. When humans make changes in the shorelines by adding bulkheads, jetties and other rigid structures, the effects resonate laterally, affecting the movement of sand and ocean from beach to beach along the shoreline. 

“Port Jefferson’s experience with bluff restoration is a microcosm of what has been happening all over Long Island,” said Chuck Hamilton, a marine biologist and former regional natural resource supervisor for the state Department of Environmental Conservation for some 33 years.

“For a long time, farmers on Long Island had their farms right on top of the bluff, and shoreline erosion happened naturally,” he said. But now those same areas are being subdivided and developed, adding weight and impermeable surfaces abutting the shoreline. “And guess what? Now we need to stabilize.”

For decades, Port Jefferson Country Club was invisible to the beachgoers, shielded by a thick tangle of greenery clinging to the bluff. Undated photo courtesy Port Jeff historian Chris Ryon

The project

When Port Jefferson’s mayor, Lauren Sheprow, took office in July 2023, the bluff stabilization project was already in motion. Sheprow, a former public relations professional, had campaigned on a platform of two core values: financial transparency and safeguarding of village assets. However, the realities of rescuing the country club purchased in 1978 when her father, Harold Sheprow, was village mayor while keeping project costs under control have proven to be complex and demanding. 

Most of Phase I of the project happened before the current mayor took office. This work included the installation of a 454-foot rigid wall at the base, terracing and native grass plantings on the bluff face. With Phase II now under her purview, Sheprow believes it is her responsibility to see the project to completion: the installation of a wall system along the bluff’s crest, directly seaward of the imperiled country club. 

“I swore to protect and preserve the property owned by the Village of Port Jefferson, and therefore the residents. Preserving and protecting is not ignoring an erosion issue,” the mayor said.

Phase I, costing approximately $5 million, relied on local taxpayer dollars financed through a bond repayable over time. Phase II, estimated at $4.8 million, will be financed mostly by federal taxpayer dollars by a FEMA grant of $3.75 million.  

Financing the endeavor has been rife with holdups and stymied by a six-year-long permitting process. It has been almost a year since Phase I was completed. Final signoffs related to the FEMA funding for Phase II are still pending, preventing the village from seeking bids for construction of the upper wall. However, the village treasurer, Stephen Gaffga, said he hopes to see the signoffs come through this month. 

By many accounts, questions about the project’s funding have rankled residents for years. The prevailing sentiment is that the village pushed through a $10 million bond for the stabilization project (phases I and II combined) without a community vote through a bond resolution. 

“When I am asked about my position about the bluff restoration, I never saw the arguments on all sides of the project flushed out,” said Ana Hozyainova, president of Port Jefferson Civic Association. “Village officials took the position from the beginning that the building must be saved, no matter what. That imperative has limited the discussions about options.”

Complications

The uncertainty surrounding the cost and timing of needed repairs because of winter storm damage to the bluff faces further complications in Phase II. “Negotiations are ongoing” between the village and the contractor about who is responsible for absorbing these additional expenses, Gaffga said. 

Drainage issues at the bluff’s crest are also hampering progress, and likely contributed to the recent collapse of the newly-installed terracing along the western part of the bluff, below the tennis courts. “There are huge puddles sitting at the crest, after heavy [recent] rainstorms,” Sheprow said. The strategy and cost related to addressing the drainage issues have not yet been determined, she added. 

Although the project was divided into two phases because of funding constraints, “its ultimate success,” according to Laura Schwanof, senior ecologist at GEI Consultants of Huntington Station, “hinges on both walls working together to curtail erosion and prevent the club slipping down the slope.” 

GEI has been involved with village erosion mitigation projects since 2009. The two-wall system for the bluff stabilization was their design. “The problem with this project is protection number two the upper wall has not been installed,” Schwanof said. When asked how long the wall system might hold up, she couldn’t say. 

“What does happen, and has been seen across the Northeast, is that as we get more frequent storms, higher wave energy, higher rainfall events, rigid wall structures may work in the short term. But if you look 50 years down the road, they may not be as effective,” she said. 

“Hard erosion protection structures such as revetments or bulkheads can be costly, only partially effective over time and may even deflect wave energy onto adjacent properties.” Jeff Wernick, a DEC representative, wrote in an email. The DEC, he said, permitted the East Beach project based solely on “the immediate threat to significant infrastructure.” 

Completion of Phase I in spring 2023, before winter storms unravel work on the bluff face.
Photo from the PJ Village website

Retreat?

 When Steve Englebright, 5th District county legislator (D-Setauket) and geologist, was asked about the stabilization project, he started with a lesson about glacial formations dating back 17,000 years. Englebright scrutinized photographs of the bluff during an interview with TBR News conducted after the recent storms. 

“When the bluff, which is partially made of clay, is overweighted it behaves like squeezed toothpaste,” he said. “You can see toothpaste-like extrusions on the beach.”

Missing from the conversation, according to Englebright, is a reckoning of what is happening along the entire Long Island coast. “People don’t understand the overall dynamics,” he said. “That’s why I’m trying to give you the big picture that the entire North Shore is unstable.”

“Trying to defend a single property is human folly,” he added. “You can buy some time, but how much are we paying? I don’t believe it’s realistic because you can’t stop the overall dynamic. The village should celebrate the fact that they have the ability to retreat and use that ability. Right? The bind is if you don’t have land, but they have the land. Strategically retreat, rebuild the building.”

Stan Loucks, a village trustee and a former country club liaison, was asked to put together a retreat plan by former Mayor Margot Garant confirmed by her to TBR News. “I did a plan A proceed with the restoration project or plan B, retreat about three years ago,” Loucks said. “I got prices for the demolition of the country club, moving the tennis courts and an architectural rendering of a new club further inland.” 

“The drawings had a huge deck on this side overlooking the Sound, and the huge deck on this side overlooking the golf course. I would have loved to take that plan to the end,” he added. 

Loucks’s retreat plan was never vetted publicly. Sheprow told TBR she never saw a retreat plan. 

Loucks remembers when tennis court No. 5 went in a landslide a few years ago. “It was massive and happened overnight,” he said. “And the slide took the gazebo, too.”

Port Jefferson fire chiefs accepting recognition of Mayor Lauren Sheprow at the March 27 village trustees board meeting. Photo by Lynn Hallarman

By Lynn Hallarman

Village officials honored the service of the Port Jefferson Fire Department at the board of trustees meeting at Village Hall on March 27. 

Chief Soeren Lygum, first Assistant Chief Anthony Barton and third Assistant Chief Christian Neubert were present to accept special recognition on behalf of the fire department. 

“I thought it was an important time to recognize the fire department after the recent fire in the Port Jefferson village on Feb. 22 in which you preserved the health and safety of many people in the community by curtailing that blaze,” Mayor Lauren Sheprow said. 

“We’ve had a great working relationship with Mayor Sheprow,” Lygum said. “We’re constantly communicating with her when anything is happening in the village.” 

The mayor recounted numerous fire and rescue operations for the public, in which the fire department participated. 

Villagers were reminded they could become volunteer firefighters. “You can stop by, and we have applications readily available,” Lygum said. 

Dangerous roadways

Several residents spoke about long-standing problems with traffic accidents, dangerous intersections and a lack of walkable corridors into the village.

Janice Fleischman described the “multiple scary moments with cars” walking her dog on Old Post Road East near Laurel Drive. “It’s gotten worse because of debris and encroaching foliage,” she said. 

Fleischman cited data issued by Suffolk County between 2017 and 2021 demonstrating that the county had the highest number of people who died while walking, bicycling, riding a motorcycle or driving than any other county in New York State during the same period. 

“The suburbs were engineered for cars, not for people to walk,” she said. “Now we know that’s not good for our health.” She advocated for a network of sidewalks and to remediate dangerous intersections before “a terrible accident happens.” 

Lisa Jaeger reiterated Fleischman’s concerns about dangerous walking conditions on Old Post Road near Laurel Drive. 

“I can’t tell you how often I’ve almost hit people coming around that corner from Laurel Drive going down the hill toward Old Post Road. It’s very dangerous,” she said

Barbara Sabatino described perilous traffic conditions and numerous accidents near her home on East Broadway. She advocated for traffic-calming measures and enforcement. 

Trustee Rebecca Kassay responded to concerns by informing the public of a recent walkability study completed by the village. The next steps will include strategic discussions with the planning board and trustees, and seeking grant funding to address dangerous areas in the village’s most trafficked areas.

Municipal parking administrator position

Kevin Wood, an employee of the Village of Port Jefferson for the past seven years as the municipal parking administrator, gave an impassioned speech arguing against eliminating his position as part of the tentative 2024-25 fiscal budget.

“I won’t go into the complexity of our system but, suffice it to say, it is extremely complicated and busy. The village needs and deserves a dedicated parking administrator,” Wood said. 

He added, “Port Jefferson Village processes 250,000 transactions per eight-month season. No other village on Long Island even comes close to that. Parking brings in good revenue.” 

Wood highlighted some of his accomplishments in the past several years, including the revenue-generating digitally managed parking; the completion of the “first downtown parking lot in 50 years” — the Barnum parking lot, that is free for village employees; EV charges, merchant billing, pay-by-plate parking and lot security cameras. 

 “Parking is hugely complicated. It takes somebody to negotiate and bring what we’re up against to the board,” Wood said. 

Sabatino questioned the elimination of the parking administrator position. “The parking is so complex nowadays I can’t see eliminating the position without something else taking its place,” she said. 

Village attorney, David Moran, responded: “The board, when it decides to act, will act in this room publicly, and if it decides to go whatever way, we’ll fully lay out the plan in this room.”

The board of trustees will hold a work session Wednesday, April 10, at 5 p.m.

Village resident Barbara Sabatino speaking about the tax cap. Photo courtesy PJV meeting via YouTube

By Lynn Hallarman

During the Feb. 28 Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees meeting, officials sought public input while deliberating the implementation of a tax cap override law allowing the village, if necessary, to increase property taxes above the New York State 2% tax cap.

The 4-1 vote grants trustees the option to levy additional property taxes past the 2% limit during the fiscal year 2024-25.

Village treasurer, Stephen Gaffga, explained that based on the state 2% tax cap law, allowable tax growth for the village can be up to, but not beyond, approximately $7.4 million this budget cycle. The tax cap override option would allow the board to levy taxes above the $7.4 million for unexpected village costs. 

“Based on my analysis of current village funds, I do not foresee the village needing to exceed the tax cap,” he said.

“The village has exceeded the 2% tax cap in eight of the last nine years,” Gaffga told TBR News Media. “The approximate range of the piercing is between $8,000 and $380,000, depending upon the year.”

New York State property tax cap New Yorkers pay among the highest property taxes nationwide. In 2011, the state Legislature enacted the tax levy limit to check spiraling property taxes. The law was made permanent in 2019 and limits the increase in the property taxes for a given budget cycle to 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This law impacts all local governments and school districts outside New York City. 

However, state law allows local governments to circumvent the tax levy limit by enacting a local law granting them the option to pierce the cap and increase property taxes above the 2% limit. A 60% majority, or three out of five votes from the village Board of Trustees, is needed to put in place an override option of the tax cap.

Public comment

Village resident Barbara Sabatino sought reassurances from the board. “We’ve had this type of public hearing for multiple years, and it was always with the assurance that should the village have to exceed 2% the increase would be small,” she said.

“We don’t have those figures yet,” Gaffga said. “But that’s certainly something that we can come up with during the tentative budget hearing for everybody.” 

Vote breakdown

Trustees Biondo, Juliano, Kassay and Loucks voted to adopt the resolution establishing a tax cap override option for this fiscal year.

Mayor Lauren Sheprow opposed the measure. “I feel strongly committed that my fiduciary responsibility as mayor, and working with the treasurer, that I’m strongly committed to not piercing the tax gap,” she said. 

The next Board of Trustees work session will be held March 13 at Village Hall.

The boarded-up house on Sheep Pasture Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Samantha Rutt

In a triumph for local preservationists and historians, the William Tooker House on Sheep Pasture Road, Port Jefferson Station, has been safeguarded from neglect and demolition. The oldest known structure in the village faced threats of urban renewal before being included in Preservation Long Island’s Endangered Historic Places List in 2021.

Constructed before 1750, the William Tooker House holds immense historical significance. It was once the residence of William Tooker, a descendant of early Long Island colonists, whose family played a pivotal role in the region’s colonial history. The house itself is a testament to the area’s heritage, retaining a colonial Cape Cod-style timber frame on intact fieldstone foundations.

A significant milestone was reached on Oct. 3, 2022, when the Village of Port Jefferson agreed to purchase the property from its current owners using a grant applied for by Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) during his time in the state Assembly. Through the State and Municipal Facilities Program, the Village of Port Jefferson was granted $500,000 to be associated with purchase and restoration of the property.

Since 2022, local officials have worked to decide the future of the property, mentioning using the house as a central museum to pay tribute to the village’s history.

“The mayor seems very focused on the significance of the site, wanting to operate within the parameters of the grant,” now-county Legislator Englebright said of Port Jefferson Mayor Lauren Sheprow’s plan for the property. “The grant will more or less include the acquisition cost as well as a phase one restoration.”

Englebright described a phase one restoration project as stabilizing the existing structure, returning it to as much of the original structure as possible and using whatever may be left over from the grant to refurbish the interior and possibly add or update the existing heating and cooling units.

The village has not yet finalized the acquisition but is actively in contract to do so, Englebright explained. Despite its historical importance, the William Tooker House has been endangered by neglect, demolition threats and insensitive alterations over the years. However, with the village’s eventual acquisition of the property, a new chapter in its preservation is soon to begin.

Preservation Long Island, along with local community members and organizations such as the Greater Port Jefferson Historical Society and Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, have advocated for the preservation of this piece of Port Jefferson’s history. Their efforts have culminated in the village’s commitment to acquire and preserve the property in collaboration with community stakeholders and nonprofit stewardship partners.

To further ensure the preservation of Port Jefferson’s historic resources, including the William Tooker House, Preservation Long Island and local advocates have outlined a series of actions for village officials to undertake. These include conducting a survey to identify and designate all historic resources and districts, leveraging public funding with private donations for rehabilitation work and incorporating historic preservation into downtown revitalization plans.

In addition, the New York State Historic Preservation Office recognized the property’s importance by determining its eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2020. With the village assuming ownership, it can proceed with the application for this designation. If successful, the designation will not only honor the house’s historical significance but also make the village eligible for tax credits, financial incentives and technical assistance for rehabilitation work.

With the William Tooker House now under the village’s stewardship, there is renewed optimism for its preservation and future as a cherished landmark in Port Jefferson. As efforts continue to unfold, residents and historians alike look forward to seeing this iconic structure restored to its former glory.

“Restoring the property will help to develop a sense of place,” Englebright said. “Place is hard to measure but important in developing community identity and pride. The restoration will help to carry and pass on a baton of knowledge for generations to come.”